willowmeg (willowmeg) wrote in little_details,

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French language: phrase with region-dependent alternate meaning

Hi all,

I desperately need a French language consultant to help me hash out a fairly important plot point in the story I'm writing. Specifically, I need someone who lives in France or is very familiar with the vagaries of the language as it is used in various regions of France - differences that may arise in phrasing, metaphor or slang that are region-dependent.

The problem is likely to be solvable within one or two casual chats, or a few emails, or maybe even here in the comments - it's really a very small and innocuous detail, but it will make a big difference in the climactic moments of the story, and I'd really like someone with experience to help me...(rather than just making something up. Inaccuracy pains me.)

Story setting: present day London (2015-2016). Nothing too out of the ordinary, at least 95% in line with the real world.

The plot I'm dealing with is that my main character, born and raised in England but whose paternal family originated in France, was in a position to overhear one side of a phone conversation between a counterfeiter and a presumed cohort. He later transcribes everything he remembers hearing, and translates it (mostly based on his own knowledge of the language from childhood, and likely assisted by reference materials). Much later, it becomes apparent that there was something very important divulged in that conversation, but the transcript gives no clue to it...until his father sees it and points out something that carries a completely different meaning in a certain area of France. This gives the clue to some vital detail of an upcoming shipment (or some other big deal going down) - and the day is saved, etc., etc. If it makes any difference, the character's father lived in Lyon through his pre-teens, then moved to Bristol with his parents; a decade later, he remained there when his parents returned to live in Toulouse. But truly, I could make any region or dialect work; the father could have had a friend...

The transcript of the phone call itself will never be seen by the reader; only the vital bits will ever be mentioned. And the phrase in question might be practically anything, no matter how innocuous - I could probably make it work no matter what it was, though I'd love to get a few ideas to choose between. It would be best if the originally translated phrase was something fairly bland and uninteresting, something that didn't stick out as terribly strange. But the main issue is that the two meanings must be clearly very different, quite dependent on region/dialect, and that the alternate meaning would not commonly come up in basic textbook learning.

Things I have done searches for:

"French regional dialects" - returned either overly basic lists of the names of individual dialects, or educational articles and audio lectures which were all actually written in French - I have only very basic comprehension, and I don't have time to get too in-depth. I wasn't able to find a simple, accessible site with a sampling of phrases with dual meanings.
(Note: I did spend as long as I could perusing something called "coolslang.com" which seemed to have potential at first - however, it was mostly curses and sex slang, and nothing seemed to be marked by dialect or region, only by country. I'm not interested in Canadian or Haitian usages, and nearly all entries lacked any alternate meanings that might depend specifically on region...also, many of the commenters there are horrible and offensive. Sigh.)

"French homophones" - I found lists of general, common words pronounced vaguely similarly, not specific to regional slang, all of which would be easily figured out by their context; my characters wouldn't make a dictionary-correctable mistake in interpretation.

I wasn't sure what else to search for - my GoogleFu is unfortunately quite lacking. But the time I did spend searching only served to emphasize the point that I need someone with personal experience to guide me in the right direction.

I've got my fingers crossed that someone here will be willing to lend a hand. Thanks in advance!!
Tags: ~languages: french

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